An elbow injury kept the 32-year-old out of the game for seven months and until last week, it seemed that everything that could go wrong actually did.
By ALLON SINAI
Yoni Erlich entered the Australian Open last week with his illustrious career in jeopardy.A failure in Melbourne would likely have proven to be a death blow to the livelihood of one of Israel's all-time tennis greats.The 32-year-old was in enjoying the prime of his tennis tenure in September 2008 when disaster struck. An elbow injury kept him out of the game for seven months and until last week, it seemed that everything that could go wrong actually did.He suffered setback after setback in his recovery from surgery and when he was finally fit again, he was hit by the contentious decision of a close friend. Instead of aiding Erlich in his return from injury, long-time partner Andy Ram chose to continue the successful partnership he had built with Max Mirnyi while his friend was out.Ram and a deeply offended Erlich did team-up in a couple of tournaments at the end of last year, but Ram's ultimate decision to turn his back on his Davis Cup teammate meant that Erlich's comeback was made all that more difficult by the fact that he had to get accustomed to a new partner while also trying to work his way back to match fitness.Erlich has played with eight different players in 16 tournaments since making his comeback last April, and until two weeks ago, it seemed as though his days as a professional tennis player were numbered.Four wins in 16 ATP Tour matches didn't bode well for Erlich's long-term prospects and in just over a year he dropped 273 places in the world rankings, from a career-high of fifth in August 2008 to No. 278 in September of last year.He began 2010 at No. 190 and perhaps even more worrying for him was that he was about to lose his protected ranking.A player injured for a minimum of six months can ask for a protected ranking, which is based on his average ranking during the first three months of his injury. The protected ranking remains in effect for either eight tournaments or for a nine-month period beginning with the first tennis event that the player competes in.All of this meant that the Australian Open would be the last tournament Erlich could enter as a top player. Had Erlich suffered another early exit in Melbourne, he would have only been able to compete in lowly challenger events for the near future due to his plummeting ranking.Erlich would have had to join forces with fellow poorly ranked players and, being just two months away from his 33rd birthday, this could have easily marked the beginning of the end of his career.However, contrary to all expectations, something incredible happened in Australia.Erlich teamed-up with Frenchman Arnaud Clement - his eighth partner in as many months - and just when all seemed lost, the pieces finally fell into place for the unlucky Israeli.Erlich and Clement defeated No. 10 seeds Julian Knowle and Robert Lindstedt in the first round and went on to claim two more victories to advance to the quarterfinals.The Israeli/French duo faced No. 2 seeds Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in the last eight early Wednesday morning, but regardless of the outcome of the encounter, Erlich has once again got everything to play for.By reaching the quarterfinals, he has already guaranteed himself aranking around 90 places higher, which will allow him to qualifydirectly for Tour events in the coming months, avoiding the Challengercircuit.And Ram, who was knocked out in the first round of the Aussie Open withnew partner Michael Llodra, is rumored to be interested in renewing thepartnership with Erlich.All of the sudden the future looks bright for Erlich.Melbourne will always be remembered as the scene of his greatesttriumph, when he and Ram lifted the doubles title at the Rod LaverArena in 2008.But from now on, it will also be the place where Erlich resurrected hiscareer from the brink, something he may look back on with just as email@example.com
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